Biden Begins Earth Day Climate Summit with World Leaders


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 22, 2021

President Biden’s Leaders Summit on Climate begins today, on Earth Day, and will conclude on Friday. The summit will be attended by 40 world leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside business leaders. The summit intends to rally public and private sector finance to reach net-zero emissions, according to the New York Times

To begin the summit, Biden announced goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero by 2050. Although specific plans are undisclosed, the administration is focusing on establishing union jobs in the climate industry and U.S. economic competitiveness in a government-wide approach. The administration hopes to encourage world leaders to adopt similar ambitious policies. 

The summit comes as climate scientists warn ambitious proactive action is necessary in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Indian Prime Minister Naraendra Modi, and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa all noted the need to better coordinate equitable efforts with developing countries in their opening speeches.

The Leaders Summit on Climate is one of several world leader meetings held in anticipation of the 26th session of the United Nations’ Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26), scheduled for November. 

Increases in Coal Usage are Contributing to Higher CO2 Emissions


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 21, 2021

Increases in coal usage across Asia and the US are contributing to the second largest annual rise in CO2 emissions, according to The Guardian. The last largest leap in CO2 emissions occurred 10 years ago after the financial crisis. Coal is the most carbon-intense fossil fuel and is more expensive than renewable energy.

“Demand for all fossil fuels is set to grow significantly in 2021,” The International Energy Agency said in their 2021 Global Energy Review. “Coal demand alone is projected to increase by 60% more than all renewables combined, underpinning a rise in emissions of almost 5%, or 1 500 Mt. This expected increase would reverse 80% of the drop in 2020, with emissions ending up just 1.2% (or 400 Mt) below 2019 emissions levels.”

Scientists warn that emissions need to be cut by 45% this decade to reduce global heating by 2.7F.

Water Quality Identified As Top Environmental Concern In Recent Gallup Survey


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Thomas Robinson | April 20th, 2021

In a recent Gallup survey, Americans were asked about which environmental issues made them the most worried, and the two top responses were drinking water quality, and the condition of lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.

The majority of respondents were greatly concerned about drinking water (56%), and the pollution of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs (53%).  A minority of respondents were greatly concerned about larger environmental issues like climate change (43%) or air pollution (41%).  Water pollution is a problem that could personally affect a respondent in the survey which is attributed as the reason for such high concern over more widespread environmental challenges.  Concerns are likely to be elevated as high profile events such as lead exposure in the drinking water of Flint, MI linger in the minds of the public. 

Overall, opinions on the environment haven’t changed much over the past several years as respondents evaluation of environmental quality has remained about the same over the past 20 years that the survey has been run.  Unfortunately, around 52% of respondents think the environment is getting worse while only 42% of respondents thought environmental quality is improving which suggests that the public’s opinion of environmental quality is declining overall.

Water quality issues are prevalent in Iowa, for example, Iowa’s Racoon River that runs through Des Moines was recently identified by American Rivers as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers.  Poor water quality on both the Des Moines and the Racoon Rivers has required Des Moines’ water utility to install additional treatment to produce safe drinking water.

U.S. House Panel Divided Over Proposed Regulation of Abandoned Gas and Oil Wells


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Nicole Welle | April 19, 2021

Members of the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee agreed to cap abandoned gas and oil wells, but the two parties disagreed on the federal government’s role in regulating the project.

The U.S. House subcommittee met last week to discuss a bill that would authorize $8 billion over 10 years to clean up gas and oil wells abandoned by defunct companies. The bill falls under President Biden’s new infrastructure and jobs plan, and it aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating jobs for oil and gas workers displaced by the transition to renewable energy, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

While subcommittee members agreed on the need to clean up the wells, Republican leaders took issue with a section of the bill that would require states to increase regulations to receive federal funding. The provision would increase bond rates for gas and oil companies to help cover cleanup costs if they were to go bankrupt.

Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota, the subcommittee’s ranking Republican, called the provision “another attempt at destroying the industry.” However, conservationists believe it would protect wells from being abandoned in the future and reduce the number of wells emitting harmful pollutants.

“Even after society transitions away from fossil fuels, abandoned and orphan wells may be emitting methane and impacting our water, air and ecosystem for many years, decades and possibly centuries,” said Mary Kang, an assistant professor of civil engineering at McGill University.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Calls American Rivers Endangered Rivers Report “Propaganda”


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 16, 2021

In a recording of Iowa PBS’s “Iowa Press” Mike Naig, the Iowa Agriculture Secretary, labeled the American Rivers choice for placing the Racoon River on the Endangered Rivers List as “propaganda,” according to Iowa Capital Dispatch.

“That so-called report was a bit of propaganda, I think,” Naig said. “It was obviously a Washington D.C.-based advocacy organization. They can go out and say what they want to, but what they talked about related to Iowa is not based in fact.”

In an interview with the Iowa Capital Dispatch, Des Moines Water Works CEO Ted Corrigan said that the designation for the Raccoon River should not have come as a surprise. “It is clear, given the ammonia, phosphorus, and thousands of pounds of nitrogen that flow past our treatment plant, that adding any more nutrients to our watershed without addressing the water quality issues is going to lead to catastrophe,” Ted Corrigan said. 

Vilsack focuses on nutrition, broadband access, and racial discrimination in USDA budget request


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Elizabeth Miglin | April 15, 2021

U.S. Agriculture Secretary and former Iowa Governor, Tom Vilsack announced the USDA’s goals with president Biden’s budget proposal to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday. The USDA plans to expand food insecurity and nutrition programs alongside efforts to address racial discrimination and increase rural broadband access. 

Last week, Biden revealed his 2022 budget request to Congress which included $27.8 billion for USDA, a $3.8 billion increase from last year. The budget would provide nearly $7 billion for nutritional programs including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Additionally, the USDA plans to relaunch the “Strike Force” program which provided $23.8 billion for 380 countries with persistent poverty established under the Obama Administration, according to the Iowa Capitol Dispatch.

A notable change however, is the USDA will end the Farmers to Families Food Boxes program established by the Trump administration by May. The USDA plans to continue efforts to distribute produce and dairy products to food banks and other beneficiaries, however noting, the Farmers to Families program has shown “significant administrative costs and inadequate accounting of where boxes were delivered.” 

This budget request comes in conjunction with the American Jobs Plan and the American Rescue Plan. The former has a proposed budget of $2 trillion which will help supplement the costs of providing rural communities access to broadband, increase the manufacturing of biobased products and community level environmental protection efforts led by USDA. The American Rescue Plan has provided a 15% increase or $3.5 billion to expand the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by $100 per household of four.

Vilsack is the first Cabinet secretary to appear this year before a House appropriations panel. 

American Rivers Places Iowa Rivers on Endangered Rivers List


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 14, 2021

American Rivers, a D.C. environmental advocacy nonprofit, ranked the Racoon River ninth on their Most Endangered Rivers list, according to the Des Moines Register. The Racoon River runs from northwest Iowa to Des Moines and provides drinking water for 500,000 Des Moines metro residents. The river was placed on this list due to about 750 animal feeding operations in the watershed that contribute to animal manure runoff.

Second on the list is the Missouri River, which runs along Iowa’s western border. The Missouri River is on the list due to poor management, which raises the risk of extreme flooding for communities and residents that live next to the river.

Despite Iowa lawmakers investing $282 million in water quality initiatives over 12 years, researchers from the University of Iowa found that nitrogen levels from Iowa continued increasing over the past two decades.

Small Increases in Ambient Carbon Monoxide Levels Result in Daily Mortality Increases


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Thomas Robinson | April 13th, 2021

In a recent study, researchers demonstrated that small increases in carbon monoxide can increase number of mortalities the next day.

Scientists have observed a positive connection between daily mortality and ambient carbon monoxide (CO) exposure from 337 cities in 18 countries.  The level of exposure they measured was of a low concentration below current air quality regulations which suggests that current measures may not go far enough in preventing negative public health outcomes from ambient CO.  A major finding in the study was that there seems to be no threshold between CO exposure and mortality, which suggests there is no safe level of exposure to ambient CO.

Carbon monoxide is released into the air from the incomplete combustion of carbon based fuel sources used to run cars or generators for example.  The air pollutant takes the place of oxygen molecules which prevents essential organs from receiving the amount of oxygen they need to function.  At high concentrations carbon monoxide can be fatal, but at lower concentrations it can cause fatigue and chest pains in those with heart problems.

These findings suggest that the global community should revisit current air quality regulations with a focus for how low level exposure to ambient pollutants influences public health.

The Majority of Iowa’s Energy Now Comes from Wind


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Josie Taylor | April 12, 2021

The proportion of Iowa’s energy that comes from wind is at almost 60%, the highest in the United States. 

Iowa added around 540 wind turbines this past year, despite the global pandemic, bringing the total number of wind turbines in the state to almost 5,900, according to the American Clean Power Association.

Some parts of Iowa have already made it far above 60%. In the Des Moines metro area, wind supplies more than 80% of its energy, which is 19% higher than in 2019, according to Mid American Energy. 

Although wind is Iowa’s main energy source, solar energy is expected to increase dramatically in Iowa’s future. Seven large solar projects already under development in the state, and they will add roughly 1,740 megawatts to the grid once completed.

President Biden has set a goal for the nation to reach 100% sustainable energy use by 2050 through wind and solar energy. For Iowa, this is a very attainable goal. Sustainable energy has been on the rise in Iowa for the past decade. Coal supplied 71% of Iowa’s energy in 2010, and it now supplies only 22%. 

Iowa continues to lead the nation in sustainable energy production, and the increase in sustainability isn’t projected to stop any time soon. 

Fewer Americans Prioritize the Environment Over Economic Growth


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Maxwell Bernstein | April 9, 2021

A poll from Gallup found that half of Americans prioritize the environment over economic growth, a number that has decreased from the two-thirds of Americans that took prioritized the environment two years ago. Around 42% of Americans believe that strengthening the U.S. economy should be the greatest priority. 

The current attitudes match with the U.S. unemployment rate of 6%. Gallup found that when the unemployment rate is below 6%, the majority of Americans support the environment over economic growth, and the highest support occurred when the unemployment was at 5%. 

“While slightly more U.S. adults today prioritize the environment over economic growth, the 50% doing so is down from 60% in early 2020 (largely before the pandemic was declared) and 65% in 2019, and is the lowest recorded since 2015, when 46% held this view,” Gallup said.